Book Report - The Secret Race, by Tyler Hamilton & Daniel Coyle

5:31 AM

I think I need to take a break from the cycling genre of literature.  In the last year I’ve read Come & Gone, Dog in a Hat, Slaying the Badger, Racing Through the Dark, and now The Secret Race.  The Spouse developed the habit of repeatedly asking a particular question with each book:

-Is he still in the dark?

-Is the Badger still alive?

And now with the Hamilton book: Is he on drugs yet? 

Yes, yes he is.

I remember very little of Tyler Hamilton back when he was in the pro peloton (remember, runner, not cyclist).  Wasn’t he the guy that was always riding with a broken something?  I was vaguely aware of his rise and fall, and his brief return before a final ban.  My real introduction was his interview on 60 Minutes in 2011, where I found him to be uncomfortable, halting, sad, and ultimately, believable.  Though the attack from Armstrong’s lawyers came immediately, this guy didn’t look like a man out on a vendetta, but rather someone trying to come to grips with his own failings while in the public eye. 

The Hamilton book is detailed, incredibly detailed, about his life in doping.  While David Millar spent paragraphs on paragraphs detailing his regret, he gave just a little glimpse into the actual program.  Hamilton puts it all out on the page.  Like Millar he has misgivings at the start and regret at the end, but he also has a lot of acceptance between.  At the start of his career getting doped was a sign of worth – you got on the better bus, you got the little white bags.  Hamilton does lean on the “level playing field” argument – everyone was doing it, so it came down to who did it best (just like training).  And if you look at that list of top Tour riders who were caught doping…well…it sure looks like everyone was doing it. 

Aside from the doping, which makes up most of the book, I liked Hamilton’s descriptions of his training and his races.  Doping was not the easy way through cycling for Hamilton and the peloton – it was a way to push deeper into the pain, a way to train harder and longer.  And races were no longer gambles of the “genetic dice,” but rather, “They depended on what you did – how hard you worked, how attentive and professional you were in your preparation.  Races were like tests, for which you could study.”

But let’s be honest, most people are probably reading this book for its portrait of Lance, and by the end of The Secret Race the reader gets a deep look at the fallen hero.  Through the stories of training rides where Lance has to keep his front wheel just that little bit farther ahead, to his treatment of riders on his team, to his treatment of Hamilton once he moved to another team, you get a picture of a man who would do anything to win.  Everyone, including riders on his own team, were potential enemies, and you were a fool not to realize it.  His famous intensity plays well on the television coverage of the Tour, but becomes exhausting when detailed over months and years.  And after reading all of the coverage, the books, and The Reasoned Decision I’m a bit exhausted myself…will Hamilton’s book be the final word in the Postal-years saga?

We can always hope…

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